Ala Wai Flood Control Project Wins City Council Backing

Aug 22, 2019

Updated: Aug. 22, 4:39 p.m.

The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday voted 5-3 to back the contentious Ala Wai flooding control project planned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, although local funding hasn't yet been secured.

The council had before it a resolution green-lighting a partnership agreement with the federal government that officials said they need before the flood control project can move ahead. The federal and local government would share the $345 million project cost on a 65-to-35 percent basis.

The project is aimed at controlling flooding in the Ala Wai watershed, which takes in Manoa, Makiki, Palolo and Waikiki. But it has been controversial through months of public meetings.

Before the council's 5-3 decision approving the agreement, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell argued during a council committee meeting that the project will help prevent the kind of flooding he saw in Manoa back in 2004 following torrential rains.

"I went to a place like Pamoa Road, which is below the lower part of the valley, and talked to older Japanese women who almost drowned, hung on the rafters of their homes. And it looked like a war zone," Caldwell said. The mayor said water rushed through Noelani School. Had it happened during the day, he said, "kids would have washed away and drowned."

The council split over the resolution, with Carol Fukunaga, Kymberly Pine, and Heidi Tsuneyoshi voting against the project. Council member Ann Kobayashi was excused. 

In a news release, Pine questioned the legality of the process. “State law does not allow the City or State to expend funds for such a large public works project if an EIS has not been performed," she said. "This resolution leaves so many community concerns unanswered. Therefore, the resolution is not legally sound and I cannot support it.”

The mayor said he was scheduled to meet with Gov. David Ige Thursday to discuss local funding for the project. 

Caldwell said Ige can approve $125 million in certificate of participation bonds to cover the city's share, a move that critics say goes around state lawmakers. In the past legislative session, the state Senate backed funding for the project but the House did not. The city would also be responsible for future maintenance of the flood project.

The federal government is putting up $220 million for its share of the project. Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Ed Case told HPR there is no question there will be another major flood and he supports the project.

"From my perspective, if we have a $345 million federal project that will assist us with constructive flood control in a watershed basin that is critical not only to the population of a great area ... [and] that is critical to our economy, then that is an opportunity that we ought not to lose," he said.